The Museum of Modern Art in Paris is an institution quite unlike its American counterpart in New York. The museum on Avenue du President Wilson has no fashionable penthouse restaurant, no antique movies in the basement and, most significantly, a unique policy in regard to its art.
The frightening consistency with which directors, curators and critics have bypassed or condemned the greats of their time has led the hierarchy of this musuem to proceed with greater humility. As opposed to extreme selectivity here, the Paris Museum of Modern Art offers as wide a forum for contemporary efforts as possible.
The selection of canvasses now on loan at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the Fenway, though largely a product of that selectivity which comes of tasteful, retrospective vision reflects this policy.
There are lesser known figures as well as established greats: a still life represents polish-born Louis Marcoussis who became in Paris one of the most sensitive cubists, yet remains little recognized. Henri Hayden, another Polish expatriate, is represented by Les Trois Musiciens, reminiscent of the two much produced Picassos and, interestingly enough, done before neither of them.
Suzanne Valedon, important chiefly as the mother of Maurice Utrillo, hangs alongside a particularly fine example of her son's work.
Elegance may well be the word which best epitomizes French painting, a quality which has earned Braque a reputation for being "The most French" of all. Much of this richness suffers from overcrowding and from the makeshift exhibition quarters at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Nevertheless, it is impossible to spoil what begins by being great.
A Fauve-pointilist Matisse, shown with a Marquet similar in conception, exhibits the genius which would evolve to produce such a work as Reading Woman Against Black Background. Parallel to this, a particularly handsome analytical-cubist Braque foreshadows a flowering of the personality later to paint the small but outstanding Black Fish.
When the museum opened in 1947 without any abundance of capital, contributions by leading French artists of their own work formed a magnificent nucleus for this important collection of modern painting.
Along with Picasso, Gris, Bonnard and the others who form a pantheon of figures in France's most prolific age of painting, the directors of the Modern Museum have sent us a sampling of canvasses by younger painters of more recent vintage.
Maintaining, to some degree, the lyricism of French painting, this new school subordinates the role of recognizable subject matter. Ironically enough, here is a school of European painting which takes its cue from the United States.
Soulages and de Stael have become particularly 'noticed in this country for their distinct, striking idioms. Whether these painters are, by and large, worthy and significant successors to the Picasso-Matisse era or whether their contempt fails to match their expansive delivery, is a moot question. I prefer the latter theory but, in the best tradition of La Musee D'Art Moderne de Paris, we must let time take its course.